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Uncrowned queen

After decades of struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi is poised to lead Burma into a democratic future. The move into daily politics has tarnished her reputation abroad—but not among her people

At an election rally on a main road in Rangoon a few days before last November’s general election, an elderly man in a sober longyi—the Burmese sarong—sat on a folding chair in the crowd of excited children, waiting for the event to begin. Decades of ill-compensated toil in a state bank were etched in his face. I asked him why he was there, and why he was supporting Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). “I have supported the party since 1988,” he replied. “Everything needs to change. I have suffered, all the Burmese people have been suffering for many years in many different ways. I believe the NLD is the one organisation that can totally change our country.”

His view, and his stellar hopes, were typical of many I spoke to during those hectic, euphoric days before and after the general election. For some, especially the young, their feelings for “Ma Suu” were hard to distinguish from hero worship pure and simple. But for many there was not just hope but confidence that, once in power, Suu Kyi and her party would transform the nation.

“I believe the NLD can bring peace, change the constitution and implement law, order and justice,” a retired government employee told me at a huge rally in a Rangoon park at which Suu Kyi herself was the main attraction. A few days later outside the NLD’s headquarters, as the stunning results came in and it became clear that the NLD was heading for a landslide victory, a young man told me: “We trust her completely. We stand with the NLD. I hope she can change the constitution. She will be our Abraham Lincoln.”

It was moving to discover that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Burmese voters had lined up outside polling stations hours before dawn on election day to make sure they were able to exercise their democratic right. It was impressive to find that of the millions who waited patiently in long lines on 8th November to vote for the NLD, many were Muslims and members of ethnic minority groups, including the Shan and the Kachin to whom it was supposed that Suu Kyi, a proud member of the majority Burman race, had only limited appeal. But to discover that so many were certain that she and she alone could turn the country upside down, right 70 or 170 years of wrongs and set their country on the right track—that was plain baffling.

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In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.